The Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association (OFVGA) is recommending that all essential agri-food employees on Ontario farms get tested for COVID-19, as the virus continues to stubbornly spread on some farms.
Testing workers on farm can help limit the spread of the disease, says the OFVGA.
Why it matters: Recent outbreaks of COVID-19 on fruit and vegetable farms have created concern about proper protocols.
“With the recent outbreaks that we have seen on some farms we believe it is a good idea for employers to test the workers on their farms rather than taking them to a centralized location. We feel it is much safer for workers,” says OFVGA Chair Bill George.
Lack of quarantine and public health protocol enforcement by some provincial recruitment agencies is another reason for this recommendation.
Outbreaks on farms have continued to keep the Windsor area from moving to Stage 2 of re-opening from COVID-19 lockdown. On June 22, 31 of 32 new cases in the area were from farm operations.
It is advised that growers working with provincial recruitment agencies ensure the agencies are following strict quarantine and public health requirements.
The OFVGA has also advised that growers implement policies to create separate teams of workers for those who reside on farm and those who do not.
OFVGA says it is working closely with the Ontario government and health authorities to protect all essential workers on Ontario farms during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The industry is recognizing that there is a significant gap in oversight with respect to contract workers that move from farm to farm,” says George. “The OFVGA is prepared to immediately work with government to develop regulations for how these recruitment agencies operate to ensure workers are protected and public health protocols are being enforced.”
To support agricultural workers and address concerns, the OFVGA is launching a five-point plan for producers:
- Work with government so that testing is made available on-farm to decrease the risk of spread amongst workers congregating at central testing locations.
- Work with government to develop and distribute culturally appropriate communications that address stigma and fears associated with COVID-19 and positive status so that workers feel comfortable being tested.
- Work with government, public health officials and growers to distribute communications to workers that make it clear that no worker is at risk of being sent home if they test positive or develop symptoms.
- Work with government to ensure all employees that test positive or are required to isolate have access to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) or equivalent wage replacement coverage.
- Work with government to increase the use of active temperature screening of agriculture workers before work begins each day as a best practice by employers.
“We want to make sure we are getting ahead of this thing and make sure if there is a positive with a worker that it is dealt with, that the worker will be isolated and then will hopefully go back to work when (safe to do so),” says George.
The OFVGA says it continues to work with government so agriculture worker testing and public health protocols mirror other essential service industries.